Lately, we have seen an increase in the number of contemporary visual artists who are entering the world of design and creating functional everyday objects as a reflection of their aesthetics. Some are creating furniture while others turn decorative accessories (glass and dinnerware, lamps, etc.) into authentic works of art.
Is it possible to admire a plate the same way one admires a painting? This proposition is at the core of an open discussion that begs the question of whether the Limoges china designed by Cindy Sherman, Franz West´s chairs, the lamps created by Tobias Rehberger, Peter Zimmerman´s tables or Kenny Scharf´s vases are art or design.
Some of these works do not reach the general public, but rather tend to stay in the hands of collectors while others turn up in upscale specialty stores. However, many become part of popular culture given their affordable prices. A fine example is the prestigious luxury tableware manufacturer Bernardaud, which this year launched a collection to celebrate its 150th anniversary. The firm invited 12 artists: painters, sculptors, designers and filmmakers to express their creativity and talent with 12 signature plates.
The result is the kind of art not found in museums, but on elegant tables amidst exclusive wine glasses, meats and soups. “The aim was to reaffirm the company’s commitment to modernity”, explains Bernardaud. The plates are sold in sets with prices ranging between 550 and 1,600 Euros for six pieces. Each plate tells a different story. To mention only a few without revealing the mystery behind the collections, we should highlight the story of French artist Sophie Calle, which is, without doubt, the most jocular. Her plates narrate her meeting with an artist at a BBQ dinner party 30 years ago. At the end of the evening, she warns her date to not even think of kissing her, to which he replies: “That was not my intention because you eat like a pig”. Another example of art cum design is the series where artist, filmmaker David Lynch uses the sea as a backdrop. After every good meal there comes time for coffee, which can be elegantly served in one of Michelangelo Pistoletto’s cups for Illy Art Collection, titled The Third Paradise. The Italian firm has commissioned a number of coffee cup designs from internationally renowned artists since 1992.
But the relationship between art and design is nothing new, nor is it limited to tableware. In 2009, the Milan Furniture Fair introduced “HOOO!”, selection of elegant lamps created by Jenny Holzer. This American conceptual artist designed lamps for Flos and Baccaratt in limited editions: 49 copies of the table version and 9 of the floor lamp. The bases of the lamps were glass urns conceived by Philippe Starck. The Fair also presented a work by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson titled Starbrick, a modular lighting system for the Zumtobel Company, consisting of a brick of light with star-shaped geometric forms which can be assembled in various ways: on walls, columns or three-dimensional environments.
The list of artists who flirt with design seems endless: Rachel Whiteread created a sofa for the British firm SCP, Sarah Morris, and Gavin Turk and Gary Hume made carpets for Christopher Farr. Zaha Hadid worked on stylized marble coffee tables for Citco. Andrea Blum, John Bock, Elmgreen & Dragset, Liam Gillick, Allan McCollum, Ugo Rondinone, and Rirkrit Tiravanija have also designed furniture, games and decorations for the Cumulus Studios design firm, founded by landscape designer Nathalie Karg.
Marble coffee tables by Zaha Hadid.
After this brief periplus through the recent collaborations between art in design, the conjunction and importance of content and form become clear. To enjoy an elegant meal on a dish that narrates the story of an artist, or drink coffee in a cup that tells a tale, if not art, is at least, a blessing. Bon Appetit! ■